Millions of Campaign $$$
March on Washington

Ouch! Close to a million moms marched on Washington and other cities this Mothers Day, demanding sensible gun legislation from Congress. But in spite of their numbers, they were — well — outgunned.

As a new report from Public Campaign, "Mothers, Money and Politics," shows, it is the daily march of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that really counts in the political process.

The report highlights how:

  • Since 1997, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies have made political expenditures outweighing those of gun control groups by a ratio of almost 23 to one ($5.8 million to $258,000) according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

    Last year, in the wake of the tragedy at Columbine, Congress voted down proposals to require background checks for sales at gun shows-where three out of four of the weapons used at Columbine were bought.

    The 44 senators who said "no" to background checks on three separate roll call votes over the course of a week in May 1999 were the beneficiaries, on average, of nearly 29 times more campaign cash from gun rights groups than the 40 senators who said "yes" to background checks on all three votes ($23,340 to $815).

    After the Senate finally approved a three-day waiting period for gun show purchases, the House took up the issue in June 1999. The 212 House members who voted the NRA’s way on two separate roll call votes were the beneficiaries of 31 times more campaign cash from gun rights groups than the 189 members who voted in favor of background checks ($11,195 to $355)

  • The House and Senate have both passed bankruptcy reform bills that will make it more difficult for women to collect child support, this at a time when women are the fastest growing group in the U.S. in filing bankruptcy. The senators who voted against an amendment that would have strengthened protections for child support received $34,520 more, on average, from the banking and credit industry over six years than the senators who voted for stronger protection for children.

  • Children are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides than adults are. Bills that would require schools to adopt safer pest control methods are stalled in the agriculture committees, where the members receive far more contributions, on average, from the pesticide industry than their colleagues.

    In the Senate, Agriculture Committee members received nearly six times the average received by other senators over six years. In the House, since 1997, committee members received, on average, 11 times more than other House members did.

  • In 1998, the alcohol lobby defeated legislation, proposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that would have required states to adopt stricter drunk-driving standards or lose their highway and transit funding. During the 1998 elections, the alcohol industry gave $7.9 million to federal candidates and parties. MADD gave nothing.

  • The tobacco industry has contributed at least $2.1 million so far toward the 2000 elections. A series of bills that would strengthen regulations against selling tobacco to minors are now stalled in congressional committees.

Congressional Candyland

Ouch! You’ve heard of sweet-talking politicians. How about sweet-taking pols? That’s the best way to describe the 30 senators who this year signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman protesting a proposed change in the federal government’s dietary guidelines concerning how much sugar people should eat.

On one side were a group of the country’s top nutritionists, who studied the issue for three years. Concerned that sugar has no dietary value other than adding calories and alarmed at rising obesity rates, the nutrition experts suggested changing the federal guideline on sugar from "choose a diet moderate in sugar" to "choose beverages and foods that limit your intake of sugars."

That’s when the sugar lobby swung into action. Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Kent Conrad (D-NE), the Number One and Number Four recipients of sugar-daddy campaign contributions from 1995-2000 (with $71,602 and $44,726, respectively), circulated a letter to Glickman calling on him to essentially overrule the nutritionists’ recommendation, citing rules that require any such change to be backed by "sound science," a classic industry move for blocking or delaying regulatory actions. According to a report in Legal Times, the draft of the letter was written by sugar industry lobbyists.

Ultimately, 30 Senators — 22 Republicans and eight Democrats, including several on the committee that oversees the Department of Agriculture’s budget — signed the letter. This group received 40 percent more in contributions from the sugar industry than the average senator.

Overall, sugar growers have given more than $4.4 million to federal candidates and party committees since 1997, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The result? When the USDA announced its revision of the federal food guidelines in May, the nutritionists’ language had been quietly dropped. Now the guidelines tell Americans to "choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugar." This is significant because, among other things, the guidelines regulate what the federal government — the nation’s largest food buyer — purchases for the more than 50 million people it feeds daily in the army, prisons and schools.

This isn’t the first time that a well-heeled food lobby has managed to mold federal food guidelines to promote its product. When the Agriculture Department initially emphasized fresh foods in a draft of its "food guide pyramid" for young children, the National Food Processors Association pounced. Their lobbyists convinced the USDA to include their products in the final pyramid. Look closely and you’ll spot canned tuna in the "meat group," canned peas in the "vegetable group" and canned peaches in the "fruit group." Yum.

OUCH! is an e-mail bulletin published by Public Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to comprehensive campaign finance reform. For more information, visit

Every day, we pay more as consumers and taxpayers for special interest subsidies and boondoggles because of our system of privately financed elections. If you want to join a growing grassroots effort to educate and advocate for campaign finance reform in South Carolina, call the S.C. Progressive Network at 803-808-3384.

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